Monday, January 19, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe's prescient cosmology

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

Birthday boy Edgar Allan Poe wrote in Eureka, A Prose Poem (1848):

That the Universe of Stars might endure throughout an aera at all commensurate with the grandeur of its component material portions and with the high majesty of its spiritual purposes, it was necessary that the original atomic diffusion be made to so inconceivable an extent as to be only not infinite. It was required, in a word, that the stars should be gathered into visibility from invisible nebulosity -proceed from visibility to consolidation- and so grow grey in giving birth and death to unspeakably numerous and complex variations of vitalic development: – it was required that the stars should do all this – should have time thoroughly to accomplish all these Divine purposes- during the period in which all things were effecting their return into Unity with a velocity accumulating in the inverse proportion of the squares of the distances at which lay the inevitable End.

Here is what modern astrophysicist John Barrow writes in his book The World within the World (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988, p354); note the similarity:

This state of expansion means that the size of the Universe is inextricably entwined with its age. The reason that the Visible Universe is more than 13 billion light-years in size today is that it is more than 13 billion years old. A Universe that contained just one galaxy like our own Milky Way, with its 100 billion stars, each perhaps surrounded by planetary systems, might seem a reasonable economy if one were in the universal construction business. But such a universe, with more than a 100 billion fewer galaxies than our own, could have expanded for little more than a few months. It could have produced neither stars nor biological elements. It could contain no astronomers.

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